By Helen Ovbiagele
There’s nothing as frightening and distressing as being helpless in the face of violence, most especially when your life is at risk. Most of the confidence that keeps the majority of the people going comes from knowing that when you’re in trouble, or have a problem, you have a reliable source of help at hand.
In our country this kind of help can only come from relations, friends, and neighbours who are nearby, and who would restrain the attacker. This is only temporary relief because that help is restricted to when those people are around. Even then, when the attacks are too frequent, these ones get tired of intervening, and they no longer go to the rescue.
It’s common to read in the papers, stories of victims of violence who died because they no-one went to their rescue. This is a pity, but then you cannot expect neighbours to suspend their own affairs, and be at the beck and call of those who regularly suffer violence.
If there are helplines established by the government for reporting cases, much damage would be averted because witnesses can phone the police in the early stages and the situation would be contained. In the western world that we’re trying desperately to copy, you’re not allowed to get away with violence of any sort – be it domestic or public.
What’s more, there are help lines at the local government headquarters, in directories, magazines and in newspapers that you can use to report a case, whether you’re directly the victim or not. People are encouraged to record and report cases. Thus, you find people taking pictures of fights/attacks with their mobile phones.
Sometimes, these are used as evidence, which could help prosecute the offender. We’re not that bold here. Apart from there being no helplines, we’re afraid of what the attackers or his people can do to us. Also, many citizens don’t have that much confidence in our law-enforcement officers, that we would want to contact them .
From the reactions we got on the subject, it’s quite clear that Nigeria doesn’t take domestic violence or violence against women seriously.
“Mrs. Helen, women and children will always be victims of violence in this country, because there are really no binding laws to stop their being attacked, so their attackers have the courage to strike again. The woman becomes a punching bag and the children can’t wait to flee the nest.
The sad thing in violence in the home is that most children who experience it, imbibe it unconsciously, and then go out to unleash violence on their school mates, teachers and other people. When the court imposes heavy penalties on violence, cases would reduce drastically. Thank you. Dotun, Lagos.”
“Those two girls you mentioned in your article had no business living with men they’re not married to, and be a liability to them. I’m sure their parents are not aware that they’re living with men. They probably told their parents in their home towns that they had gained admission into higher institutions, whereas those young men had lured them to come to the city, and play wife to them without pay.
Parents can’t keep their daughters under watch all the time, especially those who are young adults, but if your child tells you that she’s moving to another town, you should accompany her there, and find out what exactly she would be doing.
One won’t be surprised to hear at a later date that the men have had their fill of those girls and had pushed them unto the streets where they would be helped to become drug-pushers/users or prostitutes. Of what use would helplines be then? Is there a government rehabilitation centre for these? To reduce violence/ill-treatment against naïve girls, parents should be more alert, and government should punish attackers heavily. Mrs. Funsho, Agege.”
“Madam, there’s more violence everywhere in the country than you can imagine, and I’m not talking about burning/bombing of religious premises and killing people. I mean violence unleashed on women, in particular. For those of us who run NGOs close to the grassroots, we know that more and more women are being battered and they’re suffering in silence.
Gone are the days when women who suffer violence could go report to the traditional rulers,or heads of their families. These days, their attackers do so with impunity and would not listen to any intervention from any quarter. Some victims die and there’s nothing their families can do to the attacker, because it is considered a private affair.
Whatever made the girl in your article go live with the man, he had no right to do anything to her against her will. But like you pointed out, where can one report? The idea of helplines at local government level would be a big help, especially at ward level. The authorities should be aware of volatile families, and threaten to pull in attackers. If the law officers can do this without fear, I’m sure attacks on the streets would be less as well. Thanks - Anthony, Awka.”
“Madam, violence will continue to escalate in this country, because all the leaders we’ve had so far, don’t really care about the welfare/safety of our women, and as such, haven’t made strong laws to protect them. If you’re courageous enough to go and report an attack, you would be humiliated at the police station, as you’re made to feel that you invited that attack through your stubbornness and pride, if it’s a domestic one.
You would be ‘advised’ to go beg the man for forgiveness, and make a promise that you would behave well thereafter. If it’s a young lady who’s been assaulted on the street, she would be told that it’s her sexy outfits that provoked the young men to taunt and attack her.
Even where a teacher is assaulted by her pupils, it wouldn’t be taken seriously and the offenders punished, because there are parents who would resist their wards being disciplined in any way, and the school wouldn’t want bad publicity. We’re in a no-win situation. ”
“Helplines shouldn’t only be for reporting domestic violence, but it should be for all emergencies of life. That’s the way things are run in enlightened people-friendly countries. There are special lines for special incidents, and even children are conversant with them and can get in touch with the police, the fire department, the welfare department, the family doctor, the hospital, etc. at once, when necessary. Lives have been saved this way. Helplines are necessary tools the government should give us urgently, to ensure safety of lives and property. - Josh, Kaduna. ”
We thank all those who wrote in.